Walk into the conference room at Bulldog Office Products Inc., and you'll find the mailroom facilities line one wall.
That's not a permanent location, but it will have to do while the company completes the last phase of its headquarters expansion.
Bulldog Office Products has many of the earmarks of a company that's growing from a small family business to a middle-market company. It has established operations in Cleveland and Columbus and has a calculated plan to move into other metropolitan markets. It instituted a health plan for its employees a few years ago, and is looking at developing a retirement savings program, as well as an employee manual.
But perhaps the most obvious sign that Bulldog Office Products is growing is the need for expansion of its distribution facility in Robinson Township. Following a reconfiguration in the mid 1990s that eased its space shortage, the company's owners decided to nearly double its warehouse, office and showroom space.
"We've been busting out of our warehouse for a long time," says Frank Fera, president and son of the company's founder. With the completion of its expansion, the facilities will more than double in size, from 15,000 square feet to 34,000 square feet.
Founded in 1968 by Fera's father and run by Fera and his four siblings, as well as his mother and some of his siblings' spouses, the company continues to grow in a market that has become increasingly saturated by big box retailers like Office Max, Office Depot and Staples. Price competition is stiff for office supplies, so the company relies on its ability to provide a high level of service and the sale of more profitable lines like office furniture to beef up its margins.
Its warehouse facility has been pushed by expansions of its operations to Cleveland and Columbus, moves that are expected to help push sales to the $14 million mark this year. With a plan to reach $50 million in sales within five years, the company's managing of its warehousing and distribution will be key to its success.
Pushing the envelope
About five years ago, the company's growing pains were becoming unbearable. It called in Lawrence Zima, a consultant who helps businesses upgrade their warehouse and distribution facilities.
Zima concluded that what Bulldog Office Products didn't need more space, it needed space that was used more efficiently. He showed the company how, with a new floor plan and more efficient equipment like racks, shelving and forklifts, the warehouse operations could be expanded without pushing out the walls.
"That saved us a ton of money," says Fera.
By redesigning the warehouse, Zima increased its capacity without expanding the building.
Ultimately, Bulldog Office Products found the seams bursting as operations in its new markets began to tax the warehouse's limits. With more space, it saw opportunities to purchase larger quantities from its wholesalers at more attractive prices -- and realized that showroom space would be an asset in selling furniture and design services to clients and architects.
Again, it called in Zima, this time to assess its needs and make recommendations for an expansion of its facilities.
Making the right choice
Zima says that, too often, companies assume they don't have enough space in their existing facilities.
"They think it's cheaper to build a building rather than better utilize what they have," says Zima.
A common mistake, he says, is failing to use the height of a building to its full advantage. The most economical way to go is up, not out, he advises. Using the appropriate shelving, racks and equipment, companies can make their spaces much more efficient.
Zima points out that a forklift, for instance, needs a certain amount of space to allow the operator to turn around. The easier it is to turn around in an aisle, the faster the operator can move from one location to another. So, he notes, it's critical to know what kind of forklift the business is planning to use.
Managing an expansion or reconfiguration is key, says Zima. The relocations of product that are necessary for the changes can create confusion. Without preparation, product can be misplaced or damaged, resulting in lost sales or, worse, botched orders and miffed customers. Employees have to be prepared as each step occurs.
Zima recommends the work be done in stages, carefully planning to minimize disruption of routine activities.
Says Zima: "If it's not properly managed, it can put you out of business." How to reach: Bulldog Office Products, www.bulldogop.com or (412) 787-3333; Lawrence Zima Consultants, (412) 788-0133